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The £9 dinghy

There's an article on news.bbc about two men from Clacton who built a boat and went fishing off the coast. They got into trouble and had to be rescued by the RNLI.

They came under some pressure to explain their behaviour once they got back on land.

Necessity is the mother of invention and although clearly the vessel lacks a few luxuries (and basics), it did work. The lads were out long enough to catch three cod and a large British crab!

I quite admire this thing, layered together from old loft insulation boards, laminate flooring and pinned with coat hangers and glue. It was a bit shortsighted to go to sea without any other equipment, they took lots of risks, but I don't think the boats construction was the biggest one.

I like the ingenuity, just shows that if you want to get stuff done, you can have a go. Don't let the established way of doing things get in your way.

 

Original article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-32201995

 

Have Van will Travel

Last minute trip up to the Lakes this weekend! Headed for Eskdale (via Keswick to do a bit of shopping!) but didn't quite make it thanks to a man in a 4x4 who now understands what winter tyres are for.

After some precision three point turning on an icy Wrynose pass, I diverted to Langdale and the campsite man summed up my arrival: "one man and his dog eh". Yes mate. Perfect.

Alone time in the hills is a non-optional part of my maintenance procedure! It keeps me happy and sane.

Hound hadn't been up to the Lakes before but he was mad about the smells and did a lot of exploring. The harness I picked up in keswick did a decent job of keeping some of the elements out as well as for lowering him down bigger drops, helicopter-style like he's a man dangling from an RAF chopper.

We just messed about really up and around Shelter Crags, didn't walk anywhere with a purpose but it was a great head-clearer and a bit of peace.

A van is the thing to have really, it makes shooting off at a moments notice so do-able. I think I'm going to struggle the next time I have to pitch and sleep in a tent. When the van gets sold towards the end of this summer... I'm going to need something special to replace it as a mobile adventure wagon.

We Dream

I'm fairly sure this photo embodies what every transporter-cum-campervan owner thinks about themselves.. when they're parked up on a Lake District site within spitting distance of a pint ;) (I know I do).

If you want the original image, and for credits, see Autollanepaliin on FlickR which is an account created to promote a splendid documentary about a charity drive from Finland to Nepal.

Anyhow, more at http://www.autollanepaliin.fi/

Family Tree

Who do these pair remind you of? Yes that is correct, it is my best pal the dog. These are his mum and dad.

Like father like son eh!

Nice lady we got him from keeps us up to date and when I saw the photo above big daddy, it made me smile.

Dartmoor

Dartmoor always seems to get binned-off when I'm looking for places to go hiking. It isn't easily reachable by public transport and it's about as far down south as you can get which rules it out for adventures with my usual outdoor-pals who nearly all live up north.

This weekend however, I finally got round to taking a trip down there and as an added bonus, I took the pup.

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That's right, it was to be the hounds first wild-camping adventure and we would do the occasion proud; man, van and beast. Better make sure I pack a celebratory lager and a a few Bonios for our first summit.

The choice of location was a bit of a last minute thing so I was unprepared. I spent Saturday morning farting-around deciding what to take as well as locating a camping shop could call at en-route that stocked the correct OS map. I also needed gas for the Jetboil (wild-camping superstove) and I fancied a new rucksack (rock and roll).

Dartmoor is home to three major military firing ranges and the route I had planned crossed quite far into one of them, so you have to check that the army aren't dropping live ammunition all over the place when you go there. I was fine.

It was a good route - quite short at six miles but took in a number of tors, one of which looked ideal for a camp. It could also be cut short at almost any point if the weather was awful or the dog was knackered (I have to keep reminding myself he's only four months old and has short legs).

The drive down was a massive ball ache, it's the school holidays and I was in a traffic jam from the moment I set off. Even in the van, with a #vanlife attitude it was almost too much. I considered binning off Dartmoor yet again, tempting signs along the road offered diversions to camp-sites, cream teas and pick-your-own strawberries which were hard to resist.

Eventually, after about 7 hours which did include 20 minutes in a shop for the essentials (and a new rucksack!) the van was parked at the side of a Devonshire track and off we went, down into a small valley and then up the top of the first tor.

Dartmoor is amazing, it's so much more wild than I had expected and very much more beautiful. I hadn't even given this a thought, I had just gone with the assumption that it would be an hour+ closer than the Lake District and probably worth the trip. How wrong! It is a brilliant place.

There's an immediate change the moment you drive over a cattle grid into the national park, and even just two minutes off the main road it feels very remote. Despite the school holidays and the traffic I didn't see another person from the moment I got out of the van.

At the top of the first tor, it was clear that the hound had done enough walking. It may have only been 45 minutes away, and we may have only covered a mile and a bit, but it was all uphill and the long grass meant he had hopped up most of it, so despite his nervous energy and a refusal to sit still, we struck camp!


Behind our rock which was sheltering us from gusts of wind, I climbed into my bivvy, made dinner (chicken curry) and tried to feed the pup who was more interested in growling at some cows a mile away. I suppose I might growl at a cow if I'd never seen one before.

We had pitched a bit early so it took an hour for the sun to set but soon enough we were both nodding off in the sleeping bag with a phenomenal array of stars on display above us.

I've done loads of wild camps in all sorts of places but the noises in Dartmoor though the night were unique. The wind really grinds around all the tors and your imagination runs wild trying to explain that thing you just heard in the darkness.

The wildlife too was very different. In the Lakes you might get a sheep or a rabbit coming past at night but here we had badgers scurrying about and wild horses! Dozens of them tending their foals and gambolling around just meters away.

Our perch was quite high up so the only thing that actually interacted with us was a giant beetle, which Bowie attacked and tried to eat after it got into the sleeping bag, but I did briefly have to consider moving when it looked like the horses were going to come up and tread all over us.

The morning arrived. There is nothing quite like waking up just before dawn on the top of a hill in the wilderness. It's refreshing and inspiring. You feel invincible, especially if the view is good and the stove is bubbling away. You're the first and only person up there like it's all yours and you've conquered it!

Bowie had breakfast, I had a brew (forgot milk!) and we tramped back to the van and drove home. He's going to be a good camping pal, and we are definitely going to explore Dartmoor a bit more often!

The Van!

The beast is finally complete, my first van project is done.

It is entirely "built not bought", not because I'm trying to keep it real, but because the off-the-shelf stuff didn't really work for how I want to use it.

I wanted a side-bed so that the full length of the van would be available for bikes/boards/sheets of plywood. The bed needed to be permanently up, I wanted the stove and sink to be at the rear but not hinder the entry/exit and for everything else to be as simple as possible to keep the van flexible.

It was important that it still worked as a van and I think I've got there. I'm very pleased with it.

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The final steps were done this weekend. I had a fella come round and fit the windows I'd bought and I finally fitted my additional battery and split-charge system. So there will be plenty of power when I'm parked up somewhere, certainly enough to charge iphones, run the sink/lights and radio for a week without fear of the van refusing to re-start.

I can highly recommend getting a professional to do the windows, it's the kind of job where practice and attention to detail really pays off! As for the split charge system, that's the only job I did myself that I wish I'd got someone else to do. The wiring is straightforward enough but again it's the details of actually fitting the second battery under the bonnet.. especially when you're re-crimping cables that need to carry 300+amps... You can't do that on the cheap with some shitty soldering!

Anyhow, looking forward to the third trip away now that it's fully formed and the windows are in, luxury!

Fitting the Flettner

The van is nearing completion!

Last night I fitted an air vent, which I was a bit undecided about because I'm not entirely convinced that one is absolutely necessary.

So why did I take the plunge? I'd spent so long in going over the pros and cons without making a decision I was really annoyed with myself, so after a small glass of wine, I threw caution to the wind and went outside with my drill and a jigsaw. Christ!

Turns out that I should make more decisions like this because the result is excellent, and the vent is happily spinning away on the roof extracting air, you can properly feel it.

Only time will tell if it has a measurable effect on the condensation in the van when it's full of damp walking-gear but I am hopeful.

It will be good practice for cutting some windows in anyway!





My New Pal

Here's my new pal. Ace isn't he. 

I hope he likes camping and running about, because I made him have a wash earlier and he didn't like that very much.

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Google Chrome

Google Chrome is going down the bog a little bit which is a real shame. It is by far the quickest browser going and it is arguably the most secure, but like some of Googles other products at the moment it is losing some of it's appeal.

I've always loved the way that the big G does things. Form following function, minimalist tools that work brilliantly alone but also integrate seamlessly with other Google tools. Case in point, the Search homepage. Other case in point, gMail.

Parking the odd exception like the supremely complex Google Wave, their tools are generally awesome, have zero learning curve and occasionally include really positive game changing features.

Over the last few months though, some odd decisions seem to be getting made around features and UX.

Lots of small annoying things are creeping in across the estate.

Take the "new tab" page in the Chrome browser. there's a big grey bar across the top of it that states "for quick access, place your bookmarks here". I don't want bookmarks there, in fact I don't have any bookmarks but I can't get rid of that bar. It looks stupid and every time it opens up... it asks me.

Google Plus is another one. It has looked like a jumble sale for some time now which we are all used to, but it is features like "YOU MIGHT KNOW THESE PEOPLE" that make it unusable. There, centre stage every time you use it is a list of 50 people you've never heard of, that you can't remove, that Google want you add as friends.

Chrome again now, there is a very annoying feature called "desktop notification" that again you cannot switch off. It is a festering little icon in your system tray that pops up now and then with some kind of alert. The best thing is that when it has nothing to tell you, you can click on it and it will say "there is nothing to alert you about". So why the hell is it there at all?

Either they're fiddling with their suite of tools because they've peaked in terms of layout, design and innovation or they've made the decision to just do more stuff that drives up adoption and money and they're willing to sacrifice the design and usability for it.

Some actions are definitely deliberately vague.

Take the sign-in page you're presented with when you first open Chrome. It looks like the gMail login, but actually signs you into the Chrome browser. This then syncs your history, open tabs, bookmarks and logins by default. It's all a bit shady and you'd never notice because it does pass-through when you visit a Google site and signs you in automatically...

Anyhow, off the back of some of these annoyances I dumped Chrome a few weeks back and switched to Safari, which is super integrated with OS X and iOS, which are currently the best platforms for me. Safari doesn't fly at work where I use Linux/Firefox... but it's not a bad idea to separate those two lives anyway.

I guess after a long while of being very happy with the tools I use, I'm diversifying a bit.. never pays to have all your eggs in one basket and definitely don't be afraid to change!

 

 

 

New Job

I lived in the middle of London for five years. During that time, although my head-office was but ten minutes stroll away I worked daily with my clients at their offices. 

Over those years that meant three different commutes. A five hour round trip to Surrey on tube/national rail, a three hour on the train to West London and a slightly shorter one, also to West London.

After that I moved my ass to the green green county of Hertfordshire and I drove to work every day. This took an hour ish and allowed me to drink a cup of tea, not worry about the weather and develop an unhealthy addiction to the Today Programme and PM.

Anyhow, I'm now actually working in Central London, full time and my commute is down to a blissful 50 minutes (and I still get the Today programme on my stroll to the station in the morning).

All a bit backwards isn't it. I'm the furthest away from work I've ever been (30+ miles) but it's the quickest it's ever taken me to get there. Finally working in SE1 when I moved out of here two years ago.

I like going into London every day, it feels great, but even more than that I like leaving it and going back home!

Text me if you're around for a drink.

 

 

 

 

 

Vanlife

I am back into #vanlife proper now, having done a touch of self-building to the T4. My bed is in, the kitchen sink/hob has arrived and the unit to house it is being built!

trial run

As soon as the bed was up I went for a test-run up to the Scottish Highlands to do some camping because... Well I wanted to get away to the hills but also what better way to understand what to build next than by trying it out.

It is phenomenally easy to buy stuff for Volkswagen Transporters, there are thousands of accessories. You can look online and find some seats on a sliding rail, have them fitted, get some windows stuck in then have a kitchen unit built for you and then the job is done.

You could go wild buying stuff but none of the things I looked at really worked for me.

Typical conversion 1

Typical conversion 1

Typical conversion 2

Typical conversion 2

Most of the ready-made kits block off access to the rear of the van with seats, then take-up the whole length of one side with cupboards, leaving no room whatsoever for other stuff. Imagine owning a van but having to put a bike rack on it, or not being able to pick up a sheet of ply or plasterboard or a wardrobe. Useless

You need a comfy bed, a stove to brew up on, somewhere to put drinks and eat your breakfast from and then somewhere to hang wet gear. After that, some kind of storage that hides out of the way for clothes, hiking paraphenalia and food, then you're ready to go. 

Well, sort of. That might be a bit bare minimum even for me, living in it did reveal some other amenities that the modern gentleman shouldn't be without. These include some additional lighting in the back, some curtains, a couple of USB charging points and a radio with a line-in for an ipad. Also a vent, because it got quite steamy in there brewing up with the doors shut in the torrential rain.

It was definitely raining

It was definitely raining

Yep. It's wet.

Yep. It's wet.

Anyhow, I'm glad to say that the beast is coming on in leaps and bounds and will soon be ready for a grand reveal....

You won't forget my name again

I once bumped into someone that I had only met a couple of times before. It was at a Christmas party and we'd both had a few drinks.

"flettttttttch!" He yelled and came over, talking to me, and I had no idea what his name was. I knew his face, where he worked, who for, how long for, what he did and even how good he was at it, but I couldn't place his name.

I didn't ask him because it was a noisy work Christmas party and we were just talking bollocks but then eventually out of the blue he goes "you can't remember my name can you" and I replied "no mate I'm afraid I can't".

He made a bit of a deal about it, told me what it was and then proclaimed in a very smug voice after presuming  he had embarrassed me enough "you won't forget my name again after that". 

Well lesson one here is that guess what, I haven't got a clue who you were anymore, I only remember your face and that you were a dick about it.

Lesson two? Remembering names is important to people.

VANLIFE

It's been a wee while since I had a vehicle I was massively excited about, but earlier this month, I got another. 

I have liked all the cars I've had in the past, because they were all acquired for different reasons and were right for me at the time, but looking back, how many got me really EXCITED? I'd say 318iS, Mini Cooper S, 635CSi and now my new ride:

Pimp my ride it's a VW T4 Van

Pimp my ride it's a VW T4 Van

An old Volkswagen van. It is a splendid beast with a whole 88bhp, so quite a deviation from the sub 6.5 second (to 62MPH) rule I've stuck to over the past few years, but the van is none the worse for that. 

My first van.. nine years ago

My first van.. nine years ago

It was a bit less slick

It was a bit less slick

I loved this van too.

I loved this van too.

This isn't actually my first van. I briefly owned one around nine years ago, in fact I lived in it for some time when I was working in New Zealand. Although the trusty Toyota Hi-Ace was quite a mean machine at the time.. it's nothing like the new one which is on another level in terms of fit and finish.

So why a van? If you have to ask I'm not sure you really know me. It's the perfect vehicle for me. Walking, camping, riding bikes, the occasional bit of snowboarding, going to the tip and fetching big stuff from B&Q. 100% awesome.

I'm truly into vanlife now, and will be keeping the beast for some time. So watch this space for upcoming roadtrips. First thing? Scottish camping roadtrip very soon... I better get it kitted out quickly.

Christmas in Dorset

Thoroughly enjoyed getting away at Christmas. Went down to Dorset on Christmas day itself and stayed till the 27th. 

Slightly unusual not having family around but we saw everyone on Skype and it felt good being a bit selfish and just doing whatever we wanted.

Love it down on the coast.

West Bay

West Bay

Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis

Waves on Chesil Beach

Waves on Chesil Beach

View from the Golden Cap, looking towards Seatown, West Bay and Portland Bill in the far far away.

View from the Golden Cap, looking towards Seatown, West Bay and Portland Bill in the far far away.

Source: http://fletch.cx/blog/wp-content/uploads/P...

Floor Bored

Well it's been a while since I reported on a mantask but there have been many. So many in fact I've hardly had the time to write about them. The most recent is the old hearth which I have removed from the back room. The chimney breast for this was taken away yonks ago but the previous occupants hadn't really gone all they way, they just covered up the remaining hearth with some random bits of laminate flooring. Since the hearth wasn't the same level as the rest of the floor, the laminate was all lumpy and none of it clicked together correctly, in fact this was the trigger that made me tear it all up one afternoon... a result really because I discovered the solid pine beneath it.

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Anyway. The plan for a while now has been to stick with these lovely wooden boards throughout the house, upstairs and down. We planned to sand and wax them to back their original state, but the old concrete hearth was putting a stop to this. The bugger would have to go.

So, one energetic autumn morning I took a auick trip to Screwfix Direct and, one Bosch SDS drill later, the hearth was nowt but a pile of bricks (that I still haven't taken to the tip) and had been replaced, by a load of dust and a massive hole.

DIY being what it is, this hole ended up being around a little while longer than I had planned. Mainly this was because I couldn't find any 130 x 18mm antique pine floorboards to cover it that would match the original ones when waxed, but there were other considerations...

DIY is a tremendously serial process.

All I need to do is put up some coving, paint, get a man to do the floor, then put skirting board on. In essence, that would be the ground floor finished.

Before that can happen though I need to put up two new dangling ceiling lights, which I can't do until we've decided where the table is going, which we can't position properly because I made a big hole in the floor. I can't fill in the hole because I need to go under the floor to run the 240v circuit for the garage (not built yet either) and I need to plumb in a new radiator where the hearth was before I could put the joists in. Also, as I've already said, I was struggling to find the right boards.

I mean where else could there POSSIBLY be the EXACT FLOORBOARDS THAT I NEED?

The hole stayed. It created lots more dust and gave us coughs.

It then began to claim victims. Five pence, two Metrobank pens, a piece of bresola, a screwdriver, my good torch, a couple of drunk people at a houseparty (ok, just me) and finally a toddler.

Where there's blame there's a claim, the stakes were rising and the hole had to go.

Up went the radiator, in went the new joists, but where could I get these boards from? Then a moment of genius! I would simply nick them from the bedroom and put brand new ones in their place. we're going to carpet the bedroom so who cares what they look like underneath.

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So that was that, this weekend I spent ten hours, putting down new (old) floorboards in the dining room that I'd stolen from my own bedroom. In essence, I spent ten hours moving a hole upstairs.

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... and if I fall through these gaps..... I'll need to plaster the ceiling.

Phone Busted

Phone is busted and I'm back on a bulletproof old Nokia. Six months that Nokia has spent in the centre console in my car, yet yesterday it powered up with full bars on the battery indicator and is still showing full juice.

Anyhow, don't text me it's too painful to reply :)

My Favourite Time of Year

Well it's been a bit windy here at the Imperial Palace and a little too wet for my liking but I am pleased to announce that the season of Autumn is here and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

FI ORDER

The cold I do not mind - I like getting all wrapped up - but the wet, is a pain. Mainly because it affects my mantasking! Hard to go outside and cut planks of timber when it's pissing it down.

Speaking of mantasks, there have been LOADS. The house is plastered, we've tarted up the kitchen (for £75!), took out one of the hearths, re-built another one and finally, FINALLY, we have installed the wood burner. Sofas have turned up, we've got curtains, JESUS it's cracking on.

Anyway, more on the mantasks later. One other thing that I like about the beginning of Autumn is Halloween and Bonfire Night because I get to make my finest internet purchase of the year. Fireworks!

Roll on Saturday 2nd November.....

Marabastard Finale

Well, I completed the Marabastard but it wasn't all plain sailing. It took me 2 hours 34 minutes, which was way over my target and disappointing, but I wasn't in the best state... I had three days off sick immediately prior to this thing. Stinking headache, a cough and lots of snot. I was feeling much better by the Saturday night but even on the Sunday morning of the race I was considering just going to watch.

Once I got there and met the rest of the gang, I started to think that I'd have a go and take it very easy. I mean I could just pull-out mid course if I felt really unwell. I was well fed and well hydrated but I was very aware of not being strong.

Then Robs family turned up, at this point I knew I was definitely running and the idea of not finishing went out of the window completely. Just take it easy and get round became the aim.

Come 1PM I felt happy enough and off I went repeating "run your own race" as hundreds of people, short, fat, tall, thin, old and young all ran past me up the straight.

I ran slowly, really slowly and decided not to look at my phone to check the timings in case I got disheartened. The miles ticked by.

As you can see below, despite thinking I was running slowly, for the first six miles, I was hitting 10min/mile which was something unbelievable three months ago, never mind coming off the back of a cold. I genuinely believe I could have kept this up.

At the six mile mark I was impressed with myself, amazed that I still felt like carrying on. I was proud that all the hard work I'd put in on hilly-training and running the Valley Challenge off-road race the week before was carrying me round.

I even *overtook* some people on the uphills, it was a real shock to me that I wasn't dying. This was me, Paul Fletcher, the non-sportsman and hater of all things running (and all runners!).

MARABASTARD

Then disaster struck. Somewhere not long after this six mile marker, where the ground goes flat for nearly a mile, my knee gave way and that was the end of it. I knew immediately I would not be running any further.

As you will see from the graphs, the 10 minute miles I didn't know that I had been putting in, fell right off as I hobbled, ran, walked, stopped, stretched, ran and finally limped my way round the rest of the course.

I was so disappointed not to be able to do myself and my sponsors proud. I was actually a bit angry.

I don't feel like this now, because I have the benefit on hindsight. There truly were points in the race where I thought I wouldn't even be able to walk it round. Looking back I know that I did my best, but at the time... I was mad as fuck with my situation and the donations made in Robs memory made me keep going.

Shall I tell you what didn't keep me going? The bullshit spectators at the side of the course. They really were the furious icing on my angry cake. I'm not talking about families that come out to support each other I'm pointing this rant squarely at the morons that clap anyone and anything that's coming past like groups of gormless seals. The ones "making a day of it" with their picnics. Poke it!

"Come on you're doing really well" they'd yell at me as I hobbled past. Patronising bastards, I was clearly not doing well,

I just found it so blisteringly cheerful and false. Am I a bad person for not being inspired by them? I don't believe I'm the only person to whom most of the crowd were a massive hindrance. Perhaps if I had been running well, it might have been different, but they only served to darken my mood.

One smart-arse had the gall to yell "you're nearly half way" at just over five miles. What a prick, I actually found myself telling him to "fuck off" under my breath which may have been louder than I thought because a runner in front of me literally guffawed like he was in a cartoon and then physically stumbled.

Anyhow, back to reality. A big big thank-you to my sponsors who made me embark on this journey into a frankly ridiculous sport, you helped the team that I was a part of raise £9,179 for Woking hospice. NINE GRAND.

A phenomenal sum that will go quite a lot further than 13.1 miles and hekp way more people than any of my rants about harmless spectators ever will.

I'm sure Rob would be pleased if he were still alive, and I'm certain he would be laughing at all of us clowns for forcing ourselves round a half marathon for him. Peace Rob.

I will actually continue running once my knee has healed. An obvious side-benefit to all this excercise which I strangely hadn't considered is that I am much fitter and slimmer so I don't want to lose that.

Will I do another half marathon?

Not a chance. This one was for you Kinsey! It was officially my last!

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The Woodburning Stove

When I was on the boat, I didn't have anywhere to chop logs, season logs or any space to store logs. Now that I own a house, I have plenty of space for that, but I don't have a stove to burn them in. That is, dear reader, UNTIL NOW.

Feast your eyes on this bastard. 95KG of cast iron danish brilliance which is winging its way to fletcher mansions as I type.

[gallery columns="1" ids="2222"] (this picture is from a brochure, that's not my fireplace)

I have missed having a wood burning stove ever since I moved off the narrowboat where I relied upon one for warmth and, on some lonely winter evenings, company.

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So yeah I'm very excited about getting one back in my life again, it's the beating heart of any house.